Jan 13, 2023 - News

Des Moines approves new charter school, first ran by out-of-state organization

Illustration of a pattern of apples and stacks of textbooks.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Iowa Board of Education approved an application Thursday for the state's first charter school run by an out-of-state organization.

  • Horizon Science Academy in Des Moines will work with Concept Schools, an Illinois-based charter management group that runs 31 other schools in the Midwest.

Why it matters: Local Des Moines leaders who are helping start the charter argue there's a need for its services, which school officials say will provide smaller, targeted classrooms for Des Moines youth.

  • They hope to open Horizon at the former location of Franklin Junior High School.

How it works: The school is STEM-focused and while anyone within the Des Moines school district's boundaries can apply, the primary demographic is expected to be lower-income, non-white students, according to the group's application.

  • There is no tuition requirement and students will have longer school days and a year-round calendar.
  • Projections show 200 students will attend at first and only K-3rd grade will be offered initially. Officials say it could grow to 650 students and offer K-12th grade by fall 2032.
  • To recruit teachers, the school plans on offering teachers a starting salary that's $5K more than what's offered to first-year teachers in DMPS.

Zoom in: Horizon Science Academy is backed by several prominent Des Moines business leaders, including founders Roger Brooks and Sunnie Richer.

  • The board also includes Christine Hensley, a former city councilperson.

Of note: Concept Schools has been under scrutiny for its ties to a controversial Turkish religious scholar, Fethullah Gulen, reports CBS News.

What we're watching: Staff at the Iowa Department of Education reported the state's two other charter schools that formed in 2021 are struggling financially from lack of enrollment — bringing up questions about charter schools' viability.

The big picture: The board's approval comes as Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican lawmakers make a heavy push for "school choice."

What's next: The state approved a five-year contract and Horizon plans to open its doors this fall.


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